EDMONTON – Pat Quinn’s return to coaching has ended sooner than expected.
The Edmonton Oilers bumped Quinn into the front office Tuesday and promoted associate coach Tom Renney to head coach, a move the team said had always been in the works but was accelerated after a disastrous season.
But the change was a surprise to Quinn, who said he was expecting to return to the bench for his second season.
“It’s not my decision,” Quinn said on a conference call from Toronto. “I had been looking forward to coaching the team next year. A decision was made. They’ll have a place for me to continue to help them make their changes, which I will move to.”
Quinn, 68, who guided the Oilers to a record of 27-47-8 in his first season behind the bench, has been reassigned to the position of senior adviser in hockey operations.
“Is it a promotion? I’d say not,” said Quinn. “My career has been coaching and that’s why I wanted to come back into the game with Edmonton last year. We went through some tough times, but I was looking forward to continuing to help to change the climate there and continue to help this organization go back to respectability in the sense of winning. I’ll continue to do that, but it’s just going to be in a different capacity, obviously.”
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said he had discussed the succession plan with Quinn when he hired him and Renney back in May 2009 following the firing of coach Craig MacTavish. It was Quinn’s first coaching job since he was fired in Toronto following the 2005-06 season.
“When you look at a plan that was in place when I discussed with Pat before he came here as far as a succession plan, the idea for me was that after year two I would ask him to take this position as senior hockey adviser,” said Tambellini. “That was my plan going into this, and for Tom to take over.”
But all this seemed to be news to Quinn.
“Any good management group has a succession plan,” Quinn said. “I’m aware of the fact that there should be a plan in place. As far as whether or not they told Tom he was going to be the next head coach, I don’t have any knowledge of that.
“All I said to Steve at the start was don’t just play it as an interim coach, as far as I’m concerned, because you’re going to waste the year, or two years. I felt that if you come in as an interim, that’s what you get. If the organization recognizes that, and I mean the players, then it’s tough to hold their feet to the fire when it really counts.”
The Oilers finished last in the 30-team NHL last season, 12 points back of 29th-place Toronto and 33 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Their 62 points was just two more than the franchise low, set in 1992-93. They won just 18 games on home ice at Rexall Place and nine on the road.
“Obviously, with what happened this year, in regard to the depth of our organization, the fact that we’re rebuilding the Oilers, the fact that we’re going to be young,” said Tambellini. “It made sense to me over the last couple of months when I’d been thinking about this, and how we want to do this, our plan is basically being accelerated by one year.”
Renney, who spent nine seasons with the New York Rangers, including four as their head coach before signing on with the Oilers, also served as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks in 1996-97.
In four seasons at the New York helm, he compiled a record of 164-117-0-6. He was 39-53-9 in his lone season running the bench with the Canucks.
“It’s an honour, as you can appreciate,” Renney said. “Certainly, under the circumstances, I’m not sure I would have done this otherwise. Clearly, I followed Pat to Edmonton. There’s no doubt about that.”
Renney, 55, said Quinn had “set the compass” for where he needs to go.
“He’s made it very clear where we have to improve ourselves,” said Renney. “I love that fact that Steve (Tambellini), as we discussed a year ago quite honestly, has continued to identify with this plan and kept true to that template, if you will.”
Renney has nowhere to go but up after last season.
While few pundits projected the Oilers as a powerhouse when the season began, many thought they might be able to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
That bubble burst with season-ending injuries to goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray and Ladislav Smid, putting the lineup in a constant state of flux.
The Oilers had neither the experience nor the depth to overcome the injuries. Khabibulin, the team’s major off-season acquisition last summer, only made 18 appearances before being sidelined by a back injury that would require surgery. Rookies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk were forced to carry the load.